Farewell Amor, 2020.
Directed by Ekwa Msangi.
Starring Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Nana Mensah, Marcus Scribner and Joie Lee.
Seventeen years after he moved from Angola to New York City, a man is joined by his wife and daughter, only to discover that all three of them have changed dramatically since they were last together.
More than most movies, the opening moments of Farewell Amor are deeply jarring in 2020. We hear and see the noise of a crowded JFK Airport – a bizarre anachronism in our world of social distancing. The camera focuses on an emotional family reunion, which triggers an intriguing exploration of the immigrant experience. It’s a defiantly quiet and low-key character study, albeit one that could’ve done with making some of its points a little more loudly.
Walter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) has been living in New York City since fleeing Angola 17 years previously. As the film begins, he is rejoined by the wife and child he left behind all those years ago. His wife, Esther (Zainab Jah), has thrown herself into religion and prayer since her husband’s departure, while Sylvia (Jayme Lawson) is the epitome of a shy teenager struggling to make her way in a strange country. She seems to find a way in to her new culture when classmate DJ (Marcus Scribner) introduces her to a local dance troupe.
The main body of Farewell Amor is divided into three sections, exploring the same few weeks from the perspective of each of the lead trio. Walter immediately sees his family has changed and finds that the rush of affection he had been expecting just doesn’t come, with an attempt at initiating sex from Esther culminating in disappointment for both parties. These are three people who are going to have to get to know each other anew. America is not Angola.
Once the movie leaves Walter’s point of view, it morphs and shifts into something entirely new. There’s a tentativeness to Sylvia as she explores her new world and pushes at the relaxed constraints of a more liberal society than the one she left behind. Alternatively, Esther throws herself headlong into trying to transform her new home into the one she just flew away from, laying out her religious ornaments and immediately taking over running the home by cooking and cleaning. Jah is terrific as a woman who is terrified by the prospect of adjusting to a nation so different to her previous experience, clinging desperately to the things she does know. “I will not lose my daughter to this country,” she tells Walter after DJ pays Sylvia a visit.
In many ways, it’s Lawson’s teen around whom the movie pivots. Really, she’s the glue holding Walter and Esther together – and she’s the person they’re both ultimately seeking to make happy. Her performance is one of gentle innocence. She’s trying to balance her own discomfort and uncertainty with her desire to see her parents happy and for them all to be together as a family for as long as she can remember. Her gentility feels like a microcosm for the movie as a whole, which favours humanity over drama.
This is certainly a positive quality for a movie to have, refusing the temptation of blazing rows and sensational revelations. However, the quiet humanity of Farewell Amor ultimately leaves it feeling a little too soft-edged. This material is evidently deeply personal to Msangi and there are delightful touches and textures throughout, en route to a very fragile and believable equilibrium. There’s a sense, though, that it’s holding back on the sort of raw passion and emotion that could’ve taken it to the next level.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.